Supplying Wisconsin’s educators

Giving Guide 2017

Around $4,000 worth of school supplies, equipment and learning materials cover a table and line a wall of Schlueter’s classroom.

By Sept. 1, the new school year had already begun and Rachel Schlueter, a kindergarten teacher at Morgandale Elementary School on South 17th Street in Milwaukee, still had five unfilled requests posted on DonorsChoose.org.

DonorsChoose.org is a crowdfunding website that gives people like school teachers an opportunity to raise money for certain projects or causes online.

Schlueter’s students with supplies paid for through Kohl’s donation.
Schlueter’s students with supplies paid for through Kohl’s donation.

There were a few things Schlueter needed for the upcoming school year, but her school didn’t have the budget to buy: art materials for student projects, new mats for her class to rest on during nap time, supplies for sensory activities to help the kids develop and learn, and materials to teach them about making healthy food choices.

It would’ve cost about $4,000 to buy all the materials on her own. In her 27 years teaching at Milwaukee Public Schools, Schlueter has frequently bought materials for her students – especially during times of budget cuts – but she couldn’t afford to shoulder the cost this time.

When she checked DonorsChoose in the first few days of September, she was disappointed to see not much progress had been made on her requests.

But on the morning of Sept. 6, Schlueter awoke to a pleasant surprise – a donor had pledged to fill each one of her requests.

“I was in shock,” she said.

And she wasn’t the only one.

That day, about 600 teachers around Wisconsin woke up to similar discoveries. By Oct. 3, every one of their nearly 700 requests had been filled.

Around $4,000 worth of school supplies, equipment and learning materials cover a table and line a wall of Schlueter’s classroom.
Around $4,000 worth of school supplies, equipment and learning materials cover a table and line a wall of Schlueter’s classroom.

The reason: former Sen. Herb Kohl, a stalwart Milwaukee philanthropist with a soft spot for educational causes. Herb Kohl Philanthropies announced on Sept. 6 it would fill every single request posted on DonorsChoose.org by Wisconsin teachers before 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 6.

Following the example of comedian Stephen Colbert and dozens of prominent philanthropists around the country who have taken to flash-funding requests for teachers and other people and causes in need, Kohl decided to spend $500,000 fulfilling teacher requests in Wisconsin.

His donation provided a long list of materials that included health and hygiene items, pencils, paper, books, laptops, musical instruments and microscopes for 43,000 students around the state for the 2016-’17 school year.

“What an incredible way to invest in our children,” Schlueter said. “All of our children deserve fair funding and they need the resources to learn and they deserve those resources regardless of their zip code. For him to invest in our children and our public schools is just wonderful.

“I almost don’t know how to thank him because it was so generous. It made me literally cry when I looked online that day and saw that he did that for a stranger, for our kids.”

Kohl’s dedication to education programs and initiatives goes back for years. In 1990, Kohl established an educational foundation that awards scholarships and fellowships to students and teachers around Wisconsin. As of August 2016, the foundation had awarded nearly $12 million since it was established.

“We are thrilled to support all of the classroom projects currently posted by teachers right here in Wisconsin,” Kohl said. “We owe a lot to our teachers and hold enormous hope for our students. They are both a constant source of inspiration.”

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Ben Stanley
Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.